Bicycle share system: Chicken-and-egg connundrum?


A couple of readers have left pointed comments about the bicycle share scheme that is being mooted in Penang.

Reader Soo Huey wrote in to say:

Anil, please pass this comment to Penang Forum core group too. I agree 100 per cent with Ken.

For your information, I believe this bicycle share proposal was initiated and lobbied by representatives from NGO. I was called for a meeting by Ir Lim Thean Heng together with Jonathan and Councillor Michael Lim Mah Hui where a bike share concept with hubs throughout GT area and Komtar was proposed.

My immediate reaction was that the basic infra is so poor and most people’s feedback that cycling is too dangerous, so money is better spent to plan, design and improve our street infra to make it safer for cyclists first! I rather we spend more on getting these things right before jumping the gun to have fancy bike share facilities.

However, Councillor Lim was very taken by the idea and enthusiastically supportive of having bicycle share facilities sponsored by MPPP, saying he would happily give from his allocation and will lobby council and other councillors.

In Pulau Tikus I’m desperately fighting for better city planning and infra and getting the fundamentals right. We should not be so obsessed with cycling that we get the order of priorities and practicalities wrong.

I wish some NGO reps can be more down to earth.

Another reader, Lim Mah Hui, has responded:

I wish YB Yap would get her facts right before jumping the gun to accuse me (the NGO representative) of not being down to earth.

For the record, while I heartily support the bicycle share system as I believe bicycling as one important component of a sustainable transport system (see my speech in full council meeting on 25 October 25, 2013), I am not pushing for its full-speed implementation without deliberate consideration and planning.

The meeting that YB Yap referred to where she was invited was not initiated by me or any NGO. Like her, I was invited to the meeting without any prior knowledge. Unlike her, I do believe the bicycle share system is a worthwhile project to support and has been shown to be universally accepted. (See 3 January 2014 article in FMT on ‘Will 2014 be year of the bike?’)

Having said that, I was very much taken by surprise when the Council announced in November it was calling for a Request For Proposals for the bicycle share project. In fact, I argued with the authorities concerned that we should proceed with deliberate speed, learn from the successes and failures of other cities that have implemented such systems, plan the project properly, and do it right rather than quick. I was against rushing into the project but was over-ruled.

Secondly, I have always advocated that we need to have dedicated bicycle lanes to make it safe for people to cycle. (I was swiped by a car a few months ago but fortunately escaped unhurt.) The present system of painting bicycle symbols on public roads is sorely inadequate. I call these suicide lanes, not bicycle lanes. However the engineers in the Council argue they would like to see more cyclists on the road to warrant provision of dedicated lanes. My counter argument is unless you provide safe dedicated bike lanes people won’t cycle. A survey conducted by Anil Netto in his blog asked if people would cycle if provided with safe dedicated lanes; 80 per cent answered positively.

If YB Yap is supportive of making it safe for people to cycle, I would like to know why she stated in a public forum on sustainable transportation late last year she was against having dedicated bicycles lanes in her constituency? Can she please explain what infrastructure she has in mind to make it safe for people to cycle? While it is a chicken-and-egg conundrum, I believe the two should go together, i.e., start with some dedicated lanes in key areas while also implementing the bike share system in incremental stages.

Finally, I would appreciate if YB Yap keeps her disagreement with me at a policy level and not make condescending personal remarks that are not helpful.

What do you folks think about the issue? Should the new one way streets (Burma Road and Kelawei Road) have dedicated bicycle lanes?

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  1. It is time for you to occupy George Town and reclaim our streets by cycling with public bicycles. It is time to celebrate ! It is not the time for you to argue when you can’t offer anything tangible. You should learn to be grateful that there are people who fought for the minority and the poor. You should learn to be grateful that we are making life easier for you to use public transport to help reduce your living expenses. You should learn to be grateful that we are making a breakthrough in helping to improve public transport for the benefit of everyone. Stop arguing and join me for a better public transit. If alone I can force changes to take place, together we can make bigger changes beyond your wildest dream.

  2. Our roads are just not ready for cyclists. We need an upgrade of the roads and also the skills of those looking after the roads

    Please save your breath, let your bicycle do the talking. Hop on your bicycle try cycling say from gurney plaza to jetty and back. Trust me, all the talks and writings will not beat this experience !

  3. I don’t see why a proper bike lane needs to share with motorcyclists. That is pointless. It is not the case in Europe. The reason bicycles need a separated lane is due to the speed at which they travel. Motorbikes have the capacity to travel at the speed of motorcars so if more likely to be in tune with the traffic flow. The biggest danger to bicycles is that even at 60km/h speed limits, bikes are much slower and become a hindrance to the traffic flow and consequently a big hazard.

    But I certainly agree on the point of defensive cycling, regardless of the existence of a dedicated cycling lane not.

    On the point that the MPPP engineers have voiced out that it should be proven that we have enough cyclists BEFORE putting lanes is totally ludicrous. That is why engineer are engineers and leaders should have LEADERSHIP. Asking these council engineers to have any sort of vision is obviously a waste of time judging from their response. They are at best implementers but seeing the current condition of our streets (poor lane planning, potholes, haphazard street markings, faded street markings), they are not even good implementers.

    On the point of asking cyclists to zig zag around back streets, that is also far from a solution. You can’t effectively commute across the island on back streets.

    All these points raised so far show how we as a community don’t get it. This cycling as a commute requires a bold move that is connected to something bigger. Not a half baked patched up idea in piecemeal dressed up with lots of PR. Right now this is what it sounds like. When you hear the voices from those around the government and council, you can read between the lines that they don’t have the passion nor the endeavour to make it work.

    I would suggest the following for the state government. Don’t bother with an island wide dedicated cycling lane. Go with a small pilot project which can suit the timid small-idea team (work with what you’ve got). For example:

    Put one that say connects the Queensbay area along the Lim Chong Eu Expressway with Georgetown (I understand a developer was going to do a partial one). And if possible, connect Sunshine Sq area to Queensbay. Even from Queensbay to the FTZ which isn’t far. Make sure its done properly and captures some of these residential areas (properly marked, properly maintained, with proper classy signage). If it looks like the East Coast route like in Singapore (but without pedestrian traffic as its dangerous to share the lane with bikes), people will certainly use it for recreation as a start with some hardcore cyclists at the beginning using it to commute to work sometimes. As for using it to commute for the masses, that will depend on workplaces having shower or changing facilities for it to make sense. Plus have safe bike parking facilities. So the council will need to find a way to encourage workplaces to get on board – starting with government buildings, factories, and the larger corporations, then working their way down.

    So we can see that even on a limited basis, there is a lot to be done. But if they can make it work, they have a basis to expand. If not, then there is a good recreational safe cycling track that covers a decent route. If they want to have a bikeshare programme, then there is enough to connect some residential areas with the FTZ and town.

    • islanjoe, please direct your suggestions to Chow kon yaw.

      please do not expect those in charge to know everything, they need people like you guys to give insight and feedback. tq

  4. I am one of the street cyclist in Klang valley. IMHO, safe bicycle lane DOESN’T EXIST, it is about cyclist PREPARATION, and motorist behavior is out of cyclist control. Ironically , a “proper bicycle lane” will mean motorcycle rider will need to “share” the bicycle lane, and motorcycle rider will post even greater danger to cyclist than normal vehicle.

    The reality of “safe lane” is not as straightforward for those who have no idea of bicycle safety nor knowing how to drive safely on the road. Most people just think a dedicate lane is safe? But reality tell you otherwise. 2 years ago, when cycling on the road, I put on rear warning light and front head light in the broad daylight. When doing so, I notice most car will give 1.5 meters space when passing my bicycle, even bus and lorries will respect a midget profile vehicle like a bicycle.

    For narrow lane, it is all about defensive riding and common sense, cyclist must watch their back and put a full stop and wait for enough clearance when there isn’t much space.

    For your information, most vehicle are not as reckless as many though (and you can bet, reckless people always think other drivers are reckless). The most important safety factor of safe cycling is make yourself VISIBLE. Reflective strip/tag is USELESS for bicycle whether for daylight or night time, because reflective strip need light from correct angle. Malaysia has many incident that vehicle breakdown stop at the road side cause serious collision, because even during daylight, warning cone is not sufficient to warn speeding vehicles. But bright red light is enough to do the tricks.

    Today, any cyclist can spend less than RM 25 to get cheap LED rear light and front light for day and night time riding, to make self visible for 500 meters . For serious rider, a branded LED rear light may be seen from 1~2km away.

    Nevertheless, after reading so many previous comments about cycling plan and safety issue in Anilnetto blog, I wonder how many commenter really down to earth learning the real problem.

    • You can be careful with all precautions all the time, but all it takes is a reckless moment by other road user and you could be a statistic in fatal accident.

  5. In Georgetown, there are many secondary roads or lanes running parallel to the main roads. Only true bred penangites are aware of their existence and where they lead to. Traffic are low and slower on these secondary roads. They should be made known to cyclists.


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